I share my birth story and discuss how to deal when your birth plan doesn’t happen the way you want it to.
I’m a typical Type A personality. I thrive in making a plan and sticking to it by the letter. So you bet your boots I had an in depth birth plan. There were things I was willing to be flexible on, and there were other things that I just really, REALLY wanted to avoid.
My Birth Plan
I worked with an amazing doula who helped me write up by official birth plan which I then shared with my doctor and delivery team. Here were my wishes:
- Avoid as much intervention as possible to allow for freedom of movement. This meant I wanted to avoid an induction, and also holding off on the epidural as long as humanly possible (hopefully, completely, depending on the length of labour). Aside from movement, this wish was mainly to minimize the “cascade” of intervention and risk of serious intervention (ie. C-Section) that comes along with it. I asked that the team do not ASK me if I want an epidural (aka. don’t dangle that carrot in front of me PLEASE lol), but rather, that they would wait for me to ask for it.
- Have my husband announce the gender (since it was a surprise)!
- Delay cord clamping for 30 seconds.
- Bank the cord blood, tissue and placenta.
- Skin to skin (assuming baby is OK).
- Let mom breastfeed after birth, so please wait until after the first feed to complete newborn procedures.
Nothing too outrageous, I don’t think. I mean, I could have added in that I only wanted green M n M’s in my birthing suite, but I wanted to keep it to the really important things to ensure they actually got read.
My Birth Story
Well, in the weeks leading up to my due date, I was informed that I would need to be induced at 40 weeks since I was an IVF mom (see my IVF story here). This is apparently the protocol for IVF patients because of the association with placental issues and increased risks with overdue babes. Well, this wasn’t what I wanted to hear. So I pumped my “natural” induction regime into HIGH GEAR and did everything you can to get things moving. Here’s some of the self-induction strategies I learned about that are often recommended:
- Nipple stimulation (manually, or using a pump)
- Squats and other challenging exercises
- Walking/ Hiking/ Stairs
- Eating dates (6-8/day)
- Red raspberry leaf tea
- Evening Primrose Oil suppositories
- Naturopathic or homeopathic tinctures
- Eating spicy foods
- Membrane stripping by your midwife or OB
Well guess what, I did ALL of these things. A lot of them every day for weeks with a total of 4 membrane sweeps. But guess what! I didn’t go into labour. So on my due date, my OB told me i was scheduled for a “foley catheter/ balloon” induction two days after. I tried even harder to get the baby moving. Nada. I was thoroughly disappointed but I reminded myself that the foley catheter was the lowest “intervention” method of induction. I just had to hope it would be enough to kick start things so I could avoid anything more.
So I went in for them to insert the foley catheter and immediately the cramping started. Hubs and I went for dinner down the street for SPICY pizza (the last hurrah!) and by about 7:30 PM, I was having MAJOR contractions. I was timing them and they were about every 4 to 5 minutes so I was like HOLY SHIT, this is happening FAST. But after an hour, everything stopped and I passed out. I woke up the next morning to no contractions, no cramps, and no baby. NOOOOOOOOO.
And so the dreaded intervention cascade I was so desperately trying to avoid was about to begin.
I checked into the hospital by 8:30 AM and was finally admitted closer to 11 AM. My cervix was checked and the balloon was removed, and I had only dilated ONE extra centimetre. GAH. There was no stopping things now, I had to press forward and the only option I had was Pitocin/ Ocytocin. The one thing I had really, REALLY wanted to avoid.
I blame it on the countless podcasts I had listened to but I had really built this drug up to be the worst thing imaginable. Research has linked Pitocin inductions to more than 2 x the risk of a c-section. I also knew that the contractions are MUCH harder to tolerate when induced, so my dream of even attempting to labour freely without an IV and epidural would likely not happen. I had prepared myself as best as I could for this outcome (even though I really was hoping for the best), so I took a half an hour to greave the loss of my precious birth plan, realized that waiting was only delaying me meeting my babe, and got ready to start on the drip.
For the first several hours of Pitocin, the pain was really no big deal and I was able to walk around (dragging an annoying IV pole of course). I even snacked a bit (read on about eating during labour here). They ended up breaking my water to help reduce baby’s heart rate, which I was nervous about but ultimately, it didn’t feel like anything more than me peeing myself LOL.
As my contractions came, the nurse kept saying “OMG how are you not dying right now? Most women would be screaming for an epidural.” But honestly, the hour of pain I had the night before was much MUCH worst.
Well, until it wasn’t. Maybe 7 hours in, shit was getting REALLY REAL. I was working with my doula who was performing hip squeezes, and walking me through a mindful breathing routine to get me through each contraction. Then I had an hour where I was getting contractions ON TOP of contractions – at some point I was having three in a row with no relief. I also was having a lot of rectal pressure already. The nurse suggested it sounded like I was getting ready to push so I was thinking, hey, we’re here, maybe I really can do this med-free!
Then they checked me.
I was 4 cm and still not much more effaced. HELLS TO THE NO.
GET ME THAT FUCKING EPIDURAL.
Thankfully, they came relatively quick (though it felt like a damn lifetime). But now came another hurdle that all my friends warned me about- I would have to sit completely still through 4 or 5 bad contractions while they got the drugs in me. That was quite the feat. But once inserted, each contraction started to feel less and less debilitating. I was on my way to heaven. Note to self for round two- do not fear the epidural.
I got a bit of sleep between the cervix checks and the blood pressure cuff going off on me, and yes, every time I woke up, I was STARVING AF. Alas, I wasn’t able to eat anything other than “clear fluids” (see my post on eating during labour here), so I cleaned the ward out of popsicles and ate a shit ton of candy. Unable to brush my teeth, my mouth was feeling REAL gross.
Well, thank goodness I gave in to the big bad E because it was going to be another 12 hours through the night until baby was ready to be pushed out. And that part really made me nervous. The idea of my poor lady flower ripping. The thought of seeing a doctor bust out the scissors for an episiotomy. The fear that maybe baby would get stuck and I would be the rushed into an emergency c-section like I had read about. But at 6:58 AM there was no turning back, baby was ready to come out!
The first few pushes were easy- I actually didn’t feel anything at all other than the exhaustion of pushing. Soon, we had an entire team in the room – two doctors (one of which was my OB and the OB who also delivered my husband) along with two residents, a few nurses, my hubby and doula, and ALL of them were telling me what a super star pusher I was. Honestly, it was the most complimentary hour of my life and the fact that I had absolutely no pain was a SERIOUS bonus. Okay, so I did puke everything out of my belly once from the crazy effort I was putting in, but a few minutes later, I was right back in the game.
After 1 hour and 15 minutes, baby was on my chest. My husband announced it was a boy and I was in la la land just trying to catch my breath. Honestly, pushing may have been smooth sailing below the belt, but it was the hardest cardio workout I’ve ever done. My head was literally starved of air as I tried to get four hella big pushes in each contraction.
Well, while we were cooing at our new born babe, the doctors were quickly trying to get the placenta out. Remember, we planned to bank that baby. I tried really hard not to look down there as the thought of the tearing and stiching really freaked me out, but I caught a glimpse of my lower regions in the massive reflective light above me.
All I could see was blood.
All over the bed. All over my legs. All over the doctor and resident’s arms and hands. The doctor had his whole arm up me, and the two of them were pounding on my belly (I definitely felt that!) It wasn’t until they started giving me needles in my legs that I found out the good and bad news.
The good news was that I didn’t tear at all so I didn’t get a single stitch!!! (Apparently this is REALLY unusual for a first time mom with a good sized baby). The bad news was that I was hemorrhaging. And then after I lost a ton of blood, I started vomiting violently from the blood clotting drugs they gave me to stop the bleed. Ugh…
I had eaten nothing for over 12 hours, had literally run a marathon in labour and pushing, had bled all over town, had vomited up every ounce of fluid in my body. Oh and then they gave me a course of antibiotics – something that I was hell bent against and had nightmares about during pregnancy because of its impact on baby’s microbiome. None of this was what I had imagined.
I always thought in the moments after birth, I would emerge totally high on endorphins and ready for a bad ass meal, which my hubby and I had talked about for my entire third trimester. “What will you want to eat right after delivery” was literally part of our daily conversation. I was planning on sending him for my favourite burger in the city, and scheming about what dessert I would want.
Well surprise, surprise. That didn’t go as expected either. I couldn’t even keep water down without puking it back up. It took a few hours before I felt confident enough in my tummy that I settled on a Fig and Chevre croissant from Aroma. Honestly, while it wasn’t the meal I planned for, in my starved down state, it tasted like a Michelin star meal.
So no, my birth plan did not pan out. My birth didn’t go at all the way I envisioned it over and over again. Even though maybe a lot of these little things seem really insignificant to you reading them, just the thought of them kept me up at night during the end of my pregnancy. Like I said, I like to feel in control, and all of the “what if” scenarios definitely make you feel out of control.
How to Deal When Your Birth Plan Doesn’t Work Out
But now that I’m on the other side, I can give some of that annoying unsolicited advice to you about your birth plan. These are some truths or mantras that I didn’t want to accept at the time, but I believe if I had, it would have made my last few months of pregnancy a lot more enjoyable.
- Allow yourself time to grieve. I honestly feel like my personal departure from my birth plan was relatively benign in the grand scheme of things, but even still, I needed some time to just process it. It’s okay to be pissed/ scared/ disappointed/anxious about how your birth went. You don’t need to come out of an experience so significant completely untouched. I really hate the ongoing rhetoric that as long as we have a healthy baby, we should be grateful and that we should stop dwelling on HOW it happened. I’m pretty sure the only people who think that are a) men, or b) had kids so long ago they forget the struggle. HEY, sometimes it’s fucking hard to let go. Allow yourself however long you need to feel however you need to feel about how your birth went down.
- Reframe your experience. Okay, so I’m not downplaying your grief, but keep in mind, you had a baby. Holy shit!! However things went down, the outcome is pretty crazy amazing. The birth might not have been magical. It might not have been peaceful or pain-free or intervention free. But Gd damn, girl, you deserve a massive pat on the back for the beautiful miracle that just occurred. I often find just looking at my sweet baby (when he’s not screaming, of course, really helps me calm down).
- Look positively towards the future. Whether they or their baby’s life was in danger, they were rushed into a crash c-section, or maybe their epidural just failed them, I have heard a lot of women describe their birth as truly traumatic. I can imagine it’s hard to wrap your head around doing something like that again, especially right afterwards. But if you redirect your fear for a future birth into hope for a future birth, you may be more able to better move on and look forward to round two (or three or four). Personally, I was terrified of the things that happened to me happening to me (induction, epidural, retained placenta, AH HEMORRHAGE), but looking back now, and looking forward to another birth, I feel so much more calm about round two and can only hope it goes as well as this one did.
Like all births, my birth didn’t go as planned, and had I thought through this scenario before giving birth, I would have lost my shit. But in retrospect, I realize what a great experience it was. It was really the best day of my life and even the things I didn’t want (ie. epidural) ended up being a blessing in the end (no way in hell I could have dealt with that retained placenta without it). And yes, I am already looking forward to round two.
Tell me, did your birth plan work out?
How did you come to terms with your birth not going exactly how you wanted it to?
Leave me a comment below and share with a momma who didn’t have their birth work out as planned.
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.